There is the question of what the US authorities would do under the Patriot Act, if a Muslim made a film that defamed Jesus Christ and Christian Western civilization? And I am not talking about a slick existentialist film like The Last Temptation, but an outright anti-Christian hate film. This is a question that has been raised in the last two decades, given that there have been burnings of the Koran, vehemently vitriolic speeches, writings, and broadcasts against Islam, using 'terrorism' as a thin veil for inciting prejudice and hatred, and a systematic policy of persecution not just by the US, but many of Western counties that violate the human rights of Muslims and where hate crimes take place by individuals and xenophobic groups.
The tragedy that erased human lives must be condemned by all, including Muslims no matter how angry they may be with US policy of military intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and the entire Middle East/North Africa that has been an obsession for US balance of power politics and a source of oil in the past sixty years. However, there is a larger question of hypocrisy here, the kind of hypocrisy that keeps repeating itself without end. Why the double-standard in the treatment of Muslims versus non-Muslims, and why use radical Islam as a pretext to a new Cold War-type policy that is ruinous for both the US and most certainly for the people on the receiving end?
Another very important issue is that the US has been working with some Islamists in Arab Spring uprisings to bring down regimes it does not favor, including those of Libya under colonel Qaddhafi and now Syria under Assad. Naturally, Obama and Clinton cannot reveal to the world what many know already, namely, that the US has been and continues to work with Islamists, while fighting the 'war on terror'. Let us not forget that the US once worked with al-Qaeda against the pro-Soviet secular regime in Afghanistan in the 1980's, and the goals of the US and al-Qaeda have been running parallel in many countries during the Arab Spring uprisings. In many respects, the US raised al-Qaeda to the monster that many millions perceive it to be, though in reality it is hardly as menacing, for it is hardly that organized, centralized or powerful.
Political Islamists with which the US often cooperates as well as fights as part of the larger 'war on terror' is at some level responsible for breeding violence. To what degree would political Islam be able to gain the kind of broad popular support if it were not for US intervention intended to achieve hegemony at various levels from economic to military in the Middle East? Political Islam is today an instrument of political expression, as it was in the late 19th century Egypt when the country was under British colonial rule. Political Islam produces disparate voices from moderate to fanatic, from non-violent to very violent amid the desperation to rid the Muslim world of secular West hegemony and influences. It is entirely possible that Salafist (Muslim fundamentalist) influences may have played a role, but to attribute everything to this group would be a stretch. Even the most recent anti-US protests in Libya, Egypt and Yemen are to some degree expressions of frustration that Arab Spring has not resulted in tangible benefits for the masses whose lives are no different now than they were two years ago.
This is not to say that Islamic political opportunists, including Salafists, are not using religion for their own ends. However, what feeds political Islam is the perpetual quest of the US and to a lesser degree Europe, to exploit and dominate the Middle East and North Africa; domination that translates into exploitation and gradual eradication of indigenous culture. One could rightly argue that the Chinese are just as involved with the Arab world and Africa, so why do we not see a Muslim movement against China that is interested in a business relationship under the market system, without pursuing an overall policy of hegemony that includes diluting, if not occasionally insulting the Islamic faith? Muslims know that despite its unfriendly relations with Muslims in its own country, China has no global 'war on terror' aimed at Muslims.
Does political Islam have to be rooted in violence owing to the legacy of the Christian crusades eight centuries ago, colonialism in the 19th and 20th century, neocolonialism since WWII? Islam was the first force of anti-colonial resistance in the Arab World, because there was no secular ideology to articulate political grievances. After centuries-long tradition of Islamic rule over society, political Islam is an inevitable development in the form of political parties trying to mobilize popular support and win control of the state. The debate of whether political Islam is or is not a legitimate extension of Muslim tradition is one that preoccupies mostly the West, though it is true that Muslims have also dealt with this issue. Naturally, political Islam was fine as long as the rulers were and some who remain Western puppets and permit natural resources and markets to be exploited by the West whose defense and foreign policy they follow.
Political Islam became an anathema only when it was anti-Western, refusing to emulate the political, economic and cultural institutions of the West any more than embrace its values. Political Islam is questionable not because it is political, but because it is anti-West. A reasonable person would think that the US and the West would have learned their lesson in the last ten years in the Muslim World, namely, co-optation under Americanized institutions and values simply will not work, and it will definitely backfire as it has repeatedly, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am convinced that policymakers are smart people who know all of this, but what drives them is ideology behind which hide tangible policy and economic interests, especially defense contractors and energy companies.
Religious Islam and Peace
Contrary to what many in the West believe, largely because the media and politicians have bombarded them with endless propaganda, Muslims are a people of peace, no different in their quest for survival on this planet than anyone else. They too bleed when punctured, they too feel tragedy when their sons and daughters are shot down by the military of an occupying force, whether that would be NATO, US, or Israeli. The quest to be treated humanely and with respect for their religious and national integrity, to preserve their cultural identity that the West has been violating for more than a century may seem unreasonable to some around the world, while others seek to demonize Islam and its followers. Having the West pay tribute and respect and collaborating with a few among the political and business elites in the Arab world while the average Muslim struggles to preserve cultural identity, ethnic integrity, economic and social justice is at the root of the problem of why a person committed to the faith of peace my use it to justify turning to violence.
What is Islam? Islam means voluntary submission or surrender to the Will of Allah, but it can also mean peace or safety, under Allah. This third monotheistic religion to come from the Middle East after Judaism and Christianity whose doctrinal roots Islam shares and respects, given that Abraham, Moses and Jesus are regarded as prophets. The Qur'an contains Allah's revelation as the prophet Mohammad delivered it to the faithful called Muslims. Besides the five pillars of Islam that make up the doctrinal foundation, the religion of Mohammad integrates faith and (Islamic) law, thus providing society with guidelines on all matters from worship to commerce and marriage.
As all religions evolve and theologians provide their own interpretations, similarly Islam has undergone various interpretations in the past 14 centuries. The estimated 25% of the world's people that follow Islam do not fall into the exact same doctrinal mold any more than Christians or Jews. The interaction of Christians, Jews and Muslims was relatively harmonious from the rise and spread of Islam until the Christian crusades that marked the beginning of religious rivalry, behind which rested commercial ambitions to take over the long-distance trade routes that Muslims controlled along with the lucrative gold trade.
It seems to me that American and western politicians, journalists, academics and clergy should have been promoting peace and harmony among all people, especially after 9/11. Instead, they joined the jingoistic bandwagon of the fruitless and destructive 'war on terror' that has made a few corporations richer but without making the West any safer. Paying lip service to such concepts as peace, interfaith harmony, etc., so that one appears politically correct is not enough if it means conforming to the 'war on terror' policy which in essence focuses on augmenting popularity, strength, purses and prestige of certain narrow groups behind this policy. Engaging in anti-Islam rhetoric and justifying it by supporting the 'war on terror' only strengthens political Islam and feeds the cycle of violence.
While there are politicians, a few academics, journalists and clergy honestly committed to the goals of peace and harmony, mainstream political parties, the mass media and organized religion have failed to deliver in practice on what they claims as a key doctrine, namely, peace and harmony. This is because division of people, nationalities, religious and ethnic groups sells and permits those delivering the message of hatred to benefit. In short, conflict results in profits, power and prestige, though it carries many risks as well.
Americans have every right to ask the question of how can this attack on US nationals take place in a country the US helped 'liberate', in Benghazi that was a pro-US stronghold during the uprising, and on the anniversary of 9/11. They also have every right to honest answers about US government tactics and goals in Libya during the civil war and since then. Listening to Hilary Clinton and Barak Obama speak about the tragedy in Libya, it simply confirms that the US government is not about to change course of failed militaristic policies of the past, policies I fear that will bring a great deal more violence in the region, no matter how much the US tells the world that its only goal is freedom and democracy.
This is not to say that those who committed the acts of violence should not be pursued and tried under Libyan court of law. Nevertheless, I am guessing that Washington's decision will be to adopt an even more hardline toward Islamic nations in general that do not cooperate with the US, especially given the pressure from Republicans amid the heated campaign season, and Israeli pressure to strike at Iran. In short, a policy not so different from the past. Therefore, the cycle of violence will continue and probably intensify.
The worst is yet to come in the Middle East, and not just because Islam the religion of peace has been subverted into political Islam of fanaticism owing solely to internal factors. I want to conclude by reminding the reader of something attributed to Albert Einstein. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you have conducted an experiment and it has conclusively failed, would you keep repeating the same experiment to achieve the same failed results? It seems that in US foreign policy, the exact same failed experiment is repeated so that can yield the exact same failed result, but for reasons that make political and economic sense to certain narrow interest groups. Finally, just as the culture of the Cold War worked to engender institutional conformity, today the culture of "the war on terror" (anti-Islam) works in the exact same manner.